Personal Papers

Personal Papers is a short story written by May Muzaffar, a woman with very little background information born in Baghdad, Iraq. The short story is written in a prose-like rhythm, beginning in first person and ending abruptly after switching to third person.

The story allows us some insight into the brain of a young unnamed woman who is growing up in Baghdad in 1973. Through numerous journal entries, the reader can plainly see that she is extraordinarily bright, with dreams to be educated and to live freely and without fear as a woman. She writes to an unnamed man about her dreams, her aspirations and many events that take place within her “black and white” life. She loves him dearly, and speaks very highly of him, but yet cannot be with him openly; and because of this she risks her life nightly by sneaking out to see him. He is described in many ways throughout the story, often being referred to her as “freedom.” If one thing is clear, she yearns for and strives to achieve a happiness that would not be able to be reached otherwise due to the “ball and chain” of her brother – a sexist, misogynistic Muslim man from the 70’s. It is mostly because of him she is held back, as if she were a dog on a leash. She is unable to pursue any studies he deems inappropriate, she is unable to see her lover, she is unable to make any choices on her own. She is a slave to this world she is living in, in which women are somehow lesser than men.

This entire story holds a higher meaning than simply allowing us an insight into the brain of this young woman, but powerfully reflects the life an oppressed woman in the 70’s would have to face on a daily basis. The only difference is that many women choose not to fight for what they believe will set them free because they’ve never known anything but oppression and having to bend to the will of their male counterparts. The narrator’s lover is a living, breathing metaphor for a freedom that she has tasted but cannot completely grasp ahold. Her brother is the anchor that is causing her to sink. The story will hold you captive throughout all of it. It will force you to read deeper into the themes of love, chasing freedom, misogyny, as well as oppression and violence that one would have face simply because they were born as a female. Reading between the lines and viewing the story as not a story but a metaphor for these things will really help you understand and appreciate the story for more than it is upon first glance.

3 thoughts on “Personal Papers

  1. Erick Muller

    I feel that the artifact that I wrote about connects with the same themes of chasing freedom and facing oppression and violence. I analyzed a modern mural called the “Paseo de Humanidad”, or the Parade of Humanity. This mural is right on the border between the United States and Mexico. It tells the story of migration and depicts four people crossing the border into the United States, and four people crossing back into Mexico. It shows the people going into the United States with pretty much nothing but their heritage and the clothes on their backs and returning to Mexico with possessions such as a washer. The story of migration in this region is largely one of overcoming challenges, obstacles, oppression, and even violence in the hopes of obtaining a better life. I find that this is a really interesting comparison because in it, the woman would represent Mexicans or Mexico and the man she loves would represent the United States. Her sneaking out at night to be with him is very much like people crossing the border. Both the woman and these Mexicans are returning even if for somewhat different reasons. The reasons for needing the escape are the same. This woman and Mexicans both are in a situation in their lives in which they are not happy and they are taking a risk in doing something in order to be happy. There are many Mexicans that come to the United States and then bring back money to support their families in Mexico. I looked at my artifact from a humanitarian view because it is the Parade of Humanity so I looked at the deaths related to people crossing and why they would take such a risk. Initially I was having trouble finding connections to other people’s work because of this but there is an aspect in both of these of risking something in order to find something better.

  2. Nina Knorr

    I really like your abstract, it’s very to the point. Your read on the story seems interesting, and in the last paragraph of your abstract, you sum up the metaphoric value really well. However, it also sounded like your story could potentially be about an honor killing, and I’m curious as to see whether or not honor popped up in your paper at all. Either way, it sounds like had had a strong analysis of the story, and did a good job connecting it with the background that you could find of the author, and the context of 1970s Iraq.

  3. Marshall Price

    I definitely agree that the amount of freedom these women have is unbelievably small. They can’t leave the house unless their husband or another man of the family is with them. They are unable to choose many aspects of their lives on their own, instead relying on the man of the house to choose them. It is a fairly sad existence in every aspect. Like you said above, the woman of the story is unable to pursue any interests that she has unless the man of the household deems them appropriate. Their society places women on such a tight leash that we see it as a crime for them to be treated in a way that we might treat our pets. It reminds me of learning about the times in our history where women had very few rights and had to fight for decades just to get to where they are now. Even with all the progress they have made in our society with getting the right to do a great deal of things alongside men they are still behind on a great deal of areas. Some of these areas are the glass ceiling involved within the work of women compared to the work of men, and well as arguably the idea of getting an abortion is considered by some to not even be a choice they can make. It seems that being a woman in any society simply seems to make you a lower-class citizen almost automatically regardless of economic or social standing. Over in the Arab areas of the world it is definitely a lot tougher and unfortunately for them the change for women to have more control in their lives will not come easy at all. The ways of what is essentially women-shaming are very much steeped in tradition and history. This behavior is also obviously very integrated into the culture of everyday life and as a result this kind of behavior is very common place. Even if a better way is offered it will not be something that gets decided soon, nor will it be a quick and painless change. Even with that in mind, it is very important that this gets changed as soon as it can. There is clearly a consensus among females living in these areas that they wish for change be happen if this story is any indication.


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